ED2019 Column ED2019 Comedy

Eric: Tales Of The Third Sunday

By | Published on Sunday 18 August 2019

It’s the third Sunday of the Edinburgh Festival and if you are starting to flag a little, don’t worry, that’s normal. Because doing the Fringe – as a performer or a punter – is a magnificent thing, but it’s also a tiring experience with inevitable lows among the highs.

As ThreeWeeks’ Editors Award winner Eric explains in this timely story about his first year performing at the Festival all the way back in 2008, and what happened on the dreaded third Sunday.

Eric writes…
I first came to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000. I had booked accommodation for one week, saw show after show and absolutely loved it – my record was eight shows a day. Come the end of that week, I didn’t want to go home.

So I asked my B&B if I could extend my stay. “No”, was the curt response. They were fully booked. So, I walked the streets, knocking on doors finding accommodation where I could for a further week.

During that week, I was invited to perform various guest spots, which I readily accepted. I was now seeing up to eight shows a day and performing in three more. After that I came back to the Edinburgh every year (except 2006) and saw countless shows and performed a great many guest spots.

Which brings us to 2008, the first time I came to Edinburgh not just to watch, but also to perform my own one man show. The show was listed in the brochure. I had a performer’s pass. I had rented a flat for the whole month. I wasn’t just coming to the Fringe, I was now actually a part of it!

I arrived, excited, before the Fringe started, to put my posters up and distribute my flyers. I met countless other performers who were doing the same and they were all as excited as I was. I was walking on air – and, of course, an awful lot of cobbles.

It was during that period of excitement that I met, on the Cowgate, a veteran Fringe performer who shall remain nameless. He took one look at the excited novice in front of him, clutching a handful of flyers and bouncing around like a kitten on crack, and asked – sardonically – “First Fringe is it?”

“Yes!” I practically shouted back.

“Oh yeah? You just wait until the third Sunday…” he sneered cynically.

This rather took me aback.

He was clearly jaded and the Fringe hadn’t even started yet. I dismissed his pessimism instantly, thinking to myself, “well he clearly isn’t going to enjoy his Fringe, but that is no reason for him to wee on my bonfire!”

Even if, come the third Sunday, I would be as jaded as he was about the Festival, he could have at least let me enjoy these heady first couple of weeks.

As time went on that August, I began to see that – although the Fringe is Absolutely Fantastic! – that does not mean that every single aspect of the Fringe is so. I found handing out my flyers in the pouring rain a hugely dispiriting experience. In 2008 it poured with rain every day, bar three, throughout the Fringe. After the first week I never wore a dry pair of socks!

And so, as the Festival went on, I began to think further about that pre-Fringe encounter on the Cowgate. However, I still dismissed his view.

Then it happened, the third Sunday – it was absolutely awful! The rain was particularly heavy that day, which was no mean feat in a thoroughly rain soaked 2008 Edinburgh. And I couldn’t even try to hand out my flyers, because by now the rain had stuck them all together!

It was the smallest audience of the run, each sat with a puddle of water beneath their chair. And that wasn’t even the rain. There was now a burst water main outside the entrance to my venue and, while stood in the queue, they had all been soaked by a passing lorry!

One man, sat right in the middle of the audience, seemed particularly miserable; he was sucking all the energy (what little there was) out of the room. Four people walked out. It was the worst show of the run for both them and me. None of us were enjoying ourselves.

I even contemplated calling a halt mid show and offering them all their money back. But fearing that might just make things worse, I carried on. Still, to use the industry expression, I tanked it – not something that I thought that I would do ever.

I came off stage feeling thoroughly dejected. And I went into the green room, to find all my fellow performers feeling equally down.

The burst water main had affected us all. Numbers were down for all of our shows. The few punters that did brave the queue would inevitably get drenched before they could get inside our venue. Most simply turned away and went to a venue where there was less danger of drowning.

And so, obviously, I immediately thought back to that encounter on the Cowgate. Here we are, the third Sunday and it’s pants! Oh no, he WAS right! But I didn’t want him to be right. I wanted performing at the Edinburgh Fringe to be great. So, I resolved to MAKE IT GREAT!

I left the venue, getting soaked by a passing van as I did so – but, bizarrely, this time I actually found the splashing funny! I had made a resolution and I was going to stick to it.

I went to a sweet shop and loaded up with treats for all the performers and staff at my venue. As I returned I remembered to hold back, as another van passed, adroitly timing my entrance to avoid another soaking. And then I went straight to the green room and handed out sweets and hugs to all.

Remarkably, this had the desired effect and lifted the spirits of everyone at the venue. As a team, we all resolved to fight on. The third Sunday was not going to get us down! From then on, the Fringe was great again. It was still wet and the numbers were still down, but we enjoyed the last week regardless.

That started a Fringe tradition that I continue to this day. Every year, on the third Sunday of the Fringe, I buy as many sweets and treats as I can carry and go through my venue and the Fringe offices, handing out sweets and hugs to performers, techs, front of house, admin staff, in fact anyone who needs a lift… Because remember, the Edinburgh Fringe is ‘GREAT!’

Wishing everyone a very enjoyable Fringe 2019 (particularly on this third Sunday!) – Eric

‘Eric’s Tales Of The Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn’ is on at Just The Tonic the Caves until 26 Aug.